Friday, May 6, 2011

Work the Third Shift

(Last February, I had the privilege of writing a series of 30 devotionals based on sacrifice for my church's financial campaign. I will share them occasionally when I don't have time to write something fresh.)

Sacrifice may mean giving up sleep or rest to accomplish Kingdom work.

And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him (Mark 14:35-40).

Have you ever tried to pray late into the night? It is not easy for us, with our weak human bodies, to sacrifice sleep. Most of us probably feel a real sense of compassion for the disciples in this story. They did not fully comprehend why Jesus was praying and their bodies were, meanwhile, crying out for rest. Yet, Jesus had asked them to stay awake with Him, and Peter, in particular, was called to “watch and pray” so that he would not “enter into temptation.” Despite Peter's willingness to pray, he continued to give into the weakness of his flesh. How like Peter we are!

On February 26, 1968 during the Vietnam war, a grandmother (in law) of a soldier named Jim was awakened in the night and called by the Holy Spirit to pray. Unable to kneel because of arthritis, she prostrated herself on the floor and spent the entire night reading her Bible and crying out to the Lord for the safety of her granddaughter's husband. Towards dawn, a passage in Matthew came to her mind and she claimed the promise therein and felt a peace that God would answer her prayers to spare Jim's life. On the other side of the world, Jim had come to a point of despair that had led him to ask God to end his life. The cruelties and horrors of war had taken their toll in the years he had been there and he was ready to escape. Resigned to the seeming certainty that his death was imminent, he was not surprised when he heard a missile headed directly toward him. But, God intervened. The fuse malfunctioned and Jim's life was spared. After the close call, he pulled out his Bible and began reading in Matthew. When he came to Matthew 18:19-20, he felt an overwhelming sense of peace and believed that he would live through his ordeal. He later said, “I somehow knew things would be alright.” Years later, when visiting his grandmother, she relayed to him the story of the night she had sacrificed sleep in order to pray for him. There in her Bible, right next to Matthew 18:19-20, were the words “Jim, February 26, 1968.”

What may have happened if this grandmother had listened to her body instead of the Holy Spirit and allowed herself to continue sleeping? What may have happened if Peter had prayed for God's strength that night? What may have happened if Jesus had allowed himself more rest instead of communion with God? If Jesus, in His perfect state, was compelled to stay up all night to pray, how much more seriously should we take the call to prayer? There is some kingdom work that is so imminent it requires our immediate intercession. It is easy to make the excuse that our bodies need sleep in order to function well, but we must be willing to sacrifice even our sleep at times to pray for God's will to be accomplished. Are you willing?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

But For the Grace of God. . .

"But for the grace of God, there go I." I think most of us have an easy time saying that of the habitual liar, the occasional drunkard, the one who swears...those with the "easier" sins...the ones that God has no trouble forgiving. But what about the tough ones...the really tough ones? What about the prostitute? The abortionist? The serial killer? I think we turn our faces and put up a question mark. The statement becomes one made in disbelief: "But for the grace of God, there go I?" Really, God? I could be a prostitute? I could be an abortionist? I could be a serial killer?

I have what some would call a morbid taste in reading. I enjoy, that is not the right word...I am compelled to read, on occasion, true crime stories. Understand, it's not that I enjoy reading descriptions of heinous crimes. Nor is it that reading others' horrendous crimes makes me feel somehow superior. In fact, it does the opposite. It reminds me that "But for the grace of God, there go I." And here is why: What is most striking about all these reprehensible stories is the utter normality of the people, at least at some point in their lives. The serial killer used to be just an ordinary little boy and page by page, we see small stumblings and points where the normal path took a turn and became a little more twisted until the path was so dark and confused that the depth of depravity almost makes sense. How could one not lose oneself in the sin-sickness? Choices, small choices at times, slowly move the normal boy towards a very un-normal adulthood. It is there that I find the "But for the grace of God." It is there that I find, shockingly, myself. But for the grace of God, I could have been a prostitute. But for the grace of God, I could have become an abortionist. But for the grace of God, I could have become a serial killer. But for the grace of God, THERE GO I. Praise God for His grace!

And so, I am compelled to read on. To know why and how. Because knowing the "whys and hows" can save us from ourselves, and send us running toward that grace of God before we continue on, progressively losing ourselves in our sin, a path toward ultimate destruction.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Confessions of a Freezer Hoarder

It's safe to say that people like me should not own freezers that require periodic defrosting. It's not that I forget. On the contrary, I remember every time I open that freezer and I think to myself, "I really should defrost this sometime." But "sometime" is elusive. I've never come across some time for "sometime." So, as usual, sometime came to me as it always has in the history of my owning this needy freezer. The breaker flipped and here I am with the task of finding various ways to cook deer meat and use 50 pounds of nuts and seeds. And of course, there is the cleaning out of the five-year-old corn and mixed vegetables that I needed to stock up on...which are now solidified at the bottom of the freezer in one convenient package of ice, tapioca flour, meat guck, and some other substances of unknown origin.

For a brief deluded moment, I thought I might take a picture of the spectacle, but decided that I'd rather go ahead and write the thousand words so as to paint the picture to my liking and save myself a little dignity. Yet, my compulsion to honestly convey reality is seeming to be the undoing of that dignity I'd so love to preserve. A picture might have been a kinder messenger after all!

But it's not just the ghastly state of my frozen food artifacts that I fear would quickly sell out my dignity if memorialized in a photograph. It's the items themselves contained in my freezer. Much more than frozen food artifacts, there are some frozen artifacts of the bizarre kind. Dare I share? Let's just say, if it nourishes a baby so well for nine months, wouldn't it work wonders on a newly planted baby tree? It's the ultimate in recycling. And to my defense, my midwife recommended saving it. Too bad we never remembered the forlorn frozen something when we actually planted trees. Seven years in the freezer. Poor placenta.

But the freezer is now clean again. Ready for another seven or so years of accumulating ice and oddities. And with another baby on the way, who knows...